Thursday, April 23, 2009

Strawberry Pie Duet

I have a lot of cookbooks and some are relatively old. Once, looking for strawberry pie recipes I realized all the recipes prior to the 1960s call for a filling of strawberries and sugar baked in a pastry crust. In other words, there weren’t any recipes for fresh strawberry pie or strawberry rhubarb pie. Your rarely encounter the old version of strawberry pie any more and for good reason. It’s as about as appealing as a pop tart.

Strawberries are my favorite fruit and both fresh strawberry pie and strawberry rhubarb pie best pies. One of the thinks I don’t like about living in Wisconsin is strawberry season which doesn’t come until summer. At worse the berries can be watery or hard knots, depending upon the weather. In all fairness, I will say last summer was an exception and the berries were near perfect. Unfortunately, most of the strawberries I consume any more are from California—out of necessity rather than choice. Growing up in Kentucky strawberries arrived in April. They were smaller and sweeter than the ones from California and red all the way through. Sometime I almost convince myself that this is just another case of nostalgia tainting my memory. That is until I head south and savor a locally grown spring strawberry. I has no equal.

In fairness, California strawberries seem to have improved in flavor and I will hope that this year’s Wisconsin crop is a good one. Regardless, I will keep on making strawberry pies.

Thinking back, most of the first strawberry pies I enjoyed—which were glazed fresh berries in a baked short pastry crust topped with whipped cream—were at small restaurants and coffee shops, not at home. It was a treat that I always looked forward to when dining out. I remember being on family trips and taking detours just to have strawberry pie at the Cadillac Motel Restaurant. Seemingly Big Boy had a lot to do with popularizing fresh strawberry pie. As most of us know, Big Boy began in California and was all about hamburgers but fresh strawberry pie became their signature dessert. The original restaurant, Bob’s Big Boy franchised the name regionally. Growing up in Kentucky they were known as Frisch’s Big Boy; when I moved to Wisconsin, they became Marc’s Big Boy. Some like Shoney’s Big Boy went on to became large chains.

I never remember my grandmother, who was a good cook, making strawberry pie but ironically the recipe I most often use today is basically the one she clipped from the Nashville newspaper. I’ve included it at the end (the original recipe included strawberry-flavored Jell-O instead of unflavored gelatin). I’ve also successfully made strawberry pie glazes using only cornstarch as a thickener. Unfortunately nowadays fresh strawberry pie is too often fabricated with a ready made product that is artificially flavored and colored to the max. (I’ve seen strawberry pies that I swear were radioactive.) The other travesty is to top the pie with Cool Whip. That’s too bad since it’s an easy pie to make without the neon colored glop or fake whipped cream.

I don’t remember enjoying strawberry rhubarb pie before I moved to Wisconsin. Rhubarb pie has been around seemingly forever. Whoever finally figured out the obvious to add strawberries for sweetness was a culinary genius. I can think of very few flavors that compliment other like strawberry and rhubarb. I’ve tried various ratios of fruit and different types of thickeners over the years and have included my favorite recipe. My best advice is ‘don’t use frozen fruit!’ It’s a juicy enough pie as is without exasperating the situation.

I’m pretty persnickety about pies, especially pie pastry and tend to me hypercritical of restaurant pies. However, the Norske Nook in Osseo make some very fine pies, including fresh strawberry and strawberry rhubarb—both worth the trip alone.

Fresh Strawberry Pie

1 baked 9-inch pie shell, made with short pie pastry

¼ cup water
1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin
2 quarts picked-over strawberries, hulled
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Pinch of salt

Whipped cream

Put the water in a glass measuring cup or small bowl and sprinkle with the gelatin. Let soften 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, take 3 cups of the smaller and/or less attractive strawberries and purée in the food processor or blender with the sugar and cornstarch. Pour the strawberry mixture into a saucepan, add the lemon juice and salt, and set over low heat. Stirring constantly, cook the mixture until it comes to a boil. Continue to cook and stir until the purée is thick and transparent. Stir in the softened gelatin and immediately remove from the heat. Let cool.

Slice the remaining strawberries in half and add to the cooled purée. Gently fold together and pour into the baked and cooled pie shell. Use a rubber spatula to smooth the top.

Chill the pie for at least 2 hours and serve chilled with whipped cream.

Best if made the same day it is served.

Makes 1 9-inch pie.

Deep-dish Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Enough pie pastry for 3 9-inch crusts

4 tablespoons instant tapioca
1½ tablespoons flour
¼ teaspoon salt
3 cups rhubarb, trimmed and cut into ½-inch pieces
3 cups hulled strawberries, sliced
1½ cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter cut in small bits
1 lightly beaten egg

Process the tapioca, flour and salt in a small food processor or spice grinder until fine. Combine with the rhubarb, strawberries and sugar. Let stand 15 minutes.

Spread filling in a 10-inch thoroughly chilled 10-inch pie shell, top with the butter and then cover with a lattice crust. Chill for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Brush the pie with the lattice (not the edge) with the beaten egg. Bake in the center of the preheated 400-degree oven for 25 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake 40 minutes longer.

Serve the same day as made.

Makes 1 10-inch pie.

1 comment:

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